A fetus was identified by prenatal cytogenetic diagnosis as having a karyotype 46,XY,r(13) (p11q13). Termination of the pregnancy yielded a severely malformed fetus. Fetal abnormalities included anencephaly, imperforate anus and urethral meatus, severe talipes, syndactyly, cardiac defects and other anomalies. Confirmatory studies on cultured placental villi cells indicated a second cell line, 46,XY, -13,+13qter leads to cen::13q13 leads to qter. This cell line was not detectable in cells derived from the fetus despite extensive studies. It seems likely that the two cell lines arose simultaneously with selection favouring the 46,XY,r(13) line. How the chromosome rearrangements may have arisen is discussed. We are unaware of other cases where a cell line identifiable by a chromosome abnormality appeared to be confined to placental tissue. However, studies on placental tissue may be helpful in understanding the origin of other unbalanced de novo rearrangements.